08 Apr Risks & Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine is derived from the coca plant, which is primarily grown in South America. Use of this illegal drug has declined slightly in recent years as other drugs have become more popular, but it is still widespread. Cocaine can be snorted, injected, or smoked in order for it to enter the bloodstream and make its way to the brain. Crack, the most popular form of cocaine, is a concentrated crystal which is smoked and absorbed through the lungs, producing an instantaneous high. Because it is more potent, crack is more dangerous than other forms of cocaine and more habit forming.

Once cocaine reaches the brain, it increases the release of dopamine (the chemical responsible for the sensation of pleasure) and prevents it from being recycled so it builds up in the brain. The drastic increase of dopamine in the brain inhibits other processes from functioning, which causes damage to the brain and the rest of the body. A cocaine high lasts for a shorter amount of time than that of meth and other stimulants. Because of this, people who use cocaine must take another dose more often in order to maintain a high. As they build up a tolerance to the drug, they need to take more to produce the same effects, which leads to increased dependency.

Side effects associated with cocaine use include loss of sense of smell, trouble swallowing, and nose bleeds (when it is snorted). Those who are suffering from a cocaine addiction have also reported experiencing paranoia and auditory hallucinations. When it is ingested, cocaine slows the flow of blood in the gastrointestinal system which can cause bowel gangrene. Injecting cocaine puts users at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS.

When cocaine is used in conjunction with alcohol, it can cause even more destructive side effects. When these two substances mix in the liver, it causes a reaction that produces cocaethylene, a chemical that is more toxic than cocaine alone and can cause serious heart problems and sudden death. Many deaths associated with cocaine use are traced back to cocaethylene.

Withdrawal from cocaine addiction is difficult and comes with its own set of health risks if it is attempted unsupervised. There are currently no medications used to treat cocaine withdrawal and those who need to break this dependency should seek treatment at a drug rehabilitation facility. Treatment options like comprehensive behavioral therapy are available to help overcome both the physical and emotional effects of cocaine addiction.

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